2023 U.S. Trials Previews: Can Smith Finally Hold Off Bacon/White for a 200 Back Spot?

2023 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN’S 200 BACK — BY THE NUMBERS:

  • World Record – Kaylee McKeown, 2:03.14 (2021)
  • American Record –Regan Smith,  2:03.35 (2019)
  • U.S. Open Record — Regan Smith, 2:04.76 (2023)
  • 2022 U.S. International Team Trials Champion- Phoebe Bacon, 2:05.08
  • World Aquatics ‘A’ Cut- 2:11.08

Like its counterpart the 100 backstroke, the women’s 200 backstroke has been one of the most exciting events domestically in recent years, with several swimmers in line to take the top spots at Trials. 

Like 2021 and 2022, Regan Smith is the favorite to qualify for Worlds in this race. The former World Record holder in this event, Smith recently broke the US Open Record with a 2:04.76, posting her fastest swim since 2019. She holds the American Record with her time of 2:03.35 from the 2019 World Championships, which is over two seconds faster than any other active American woman has been. The only lingering question with Smith is: Can she actually get the job done at Trials this time? At both the 2021 Olympic Trials and 2022 International Team Trials, Smith finished 3rd in this race, leaving her off the roster in one of her strongest events. 

The Dynamic Duo

At both the 2021 Olympic Trials and 2022 International Team Trials meet, Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White finished ahead of Smith to grab the two roster spots for the United States. Bacon had her best season yet in 2022, breaking the US Open Record at Trials with her winning time of 2:05.80. She then went on to win a silver medal at the World Championships, coming second only to world record holder Kaylee McKeown by a slim margin. Bacon just wrapped up a strong NCAA season at Wisconsin that saw her named the 2023 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year as she finished 2nd in the 200 backstroke at NCAAs, only behind Stanford’s Claire Curzan. Though she hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to compete in the long course pool yet, Bacon posted a 2:09.75 at a local club meet, ranking her amongst the top swimmers in the nation in this event. 

Like Bacon, White also just wrapped up her NCAA season, finishing her final year at Alabama. However, her season was not her finest one, as she failed to make the 200 backstroke A-final at NCAAs, ultimately settling for 11th place with a 1:51.93. Despite this, White has thrown down some decent long course performances so far this season, holding a season best of 2:09.01 that ranks her 5th in the country. She also recently announced her move to train with NC State’s pro group, which has developed several of the top American talents over the past few years such as Justin Ress and Ryan Held

The Challengers

In addition to the aforementioned three swimmers, there’s a large group of athletes looking to make the jump to the next level in this event. 

The biggest name remaining is arguably Stanford’s Claire Curzan, who’s coming off an NCAA title in this race and currently holds the second-fastest time in the country with her 2:07.08 from Mission Viejo. Curzan has a wide range of events to potentially qualify for the team in, including the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 50 butterfly, 100 butterfly, 50 backstroke, 100 backstroke, and 200 backstroke. Given that the 200 backstroke only conflicts with the 50 butterfly at Trials, it’s likely she’ll race this event, and she definitely could find herself adding another event to her lineup at Worlds. 

Another athlete who could be searching for an extra event in their Worlds line-up is Katie Grimes. The distance freestyle and IM specialist recently threw down a 2:09.53 at the Pro Swim Series stop in Ft. Lauderdale, coming only .01 off of her best time to rank 6th in the country this season. Grimes is a heavy favorite to make the team in the 400 IM, 800 Freestyle, and 1500 Freestyle already, and the 200 backstroke could be another option. However, event conflicts may ultimately keep her out of this race as it falls just after the 200 freestyle at Trials, an event that Grimes may contest for the chance of getting a relay spot. The heats and finals of this event at Worlds also directly conflict with the 800 freestyle, an event that Grimes will definitely be keeping her focus on. 

Isabelle Stadden, who represented the US at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in this event, will look to make the roster as well. Stadden just wrapped up her NCAA season at Cal and posted a time of 2:09.77 at the Pro Swim Series in Westmont earlier this season. Though her training situation changed drastically with Cal firing women’s head coach Teri McKever earlier this year, Stadden has been swimming well under new head coach Dave Durden. At last year’s US Trials meet, she was only a 2:09.69 to place 4th, only a tenth of a second faster than she’s already been this season. 

Three of last year’s other ‘A’ finalists in this event are also all NCAA swimmers who have had limited opportunities to race in the long course pool: Reilly Tiltmann, Kennedy Noble, and Natalie Mannion. Tiltmann recently wrapped up her sophomore season at Virginia, where she was an NCAA Champion in the 800 freestyle relay. Unlike previous seasons, Tiltmann seems to have had more success in freestyle lately, indicated by her performances at NCAAs, so she could look to the 200 freestyle instead. However, she holds a season best of 2:13.10 in this event from the NCAP invite. Noble also had a successful season at NC State, finishing 5th in the 200 backstroke at NCAAs and finaling in all of her events. Like Tiltmann, Noble has only swam a few long course races since then, holding a season best of 2:12.44 in this event. Mannion swam alongside Curzan at Stanford, just finishing her freshman year. Like Tiltmann, Mannion found her most success in the freestyle events this season, swimming a PB in the 500 freestyle en route to making the B-final at NCAAs. Her season best in the 200 backstroke stands at only a 2:19.36, putting her far behind the field in the rankings though and well off of the 2:10.81 she posted at this meet last year.

Jo Jo Ramey was the final A-finalist in this event last season. Still in high school, Ramey has raced in the long course pool more often this year than a lot of the aforementioned NCAA swimmers. She holds a season best of 2:10.27 from the Indy Sectionals meet in March, and recently posted a 2:13.34 at the Indy Spring Cup meet, with her time from Sectionals being faster than the time she posted at Trials last year to finish 8th (2:10.92). Indiana University’s Anna Peplowski finished just behind Ramey in the rankings last year, winning the B-final with a time of 2:11.21. She has already been 2:09.82 this season, inserting herself into the discussion for a spot in the A-final. 

Besides the aforementioned swimmers, there are several up-and-coming age-groupers that will look to make a jump on the national stage. 16-year-old Leah Shackley is having a huge season, dropping time in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. Shackley currently holds the 3rd-fastest time in the country this season with her 2:08.42 from the VA Super Sectional Meet. Her 100 time of 59.55 also indicates that she may have a faster time left in the tank. Teagan O’Dell is also one to watch as she recently broke the National High School Record in the 200 IM. Coming off of her strong short course performances, O’Dell threw down a 2:09.95 at the PSS Mission Viejo meet, which was almost three seconds faster than the 2:12.38 she swam to win the C-final at last year’s International Team Trials. Virginia commit Tess Howley posted a personal best of 2:10.87 last month, keeping her name in the conversation as well. 

SwimSwam’s Picks: 

Place Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Regan Smith 2:04.76 2:03.35
2 Phoebe Bacon 2:09.75 2:05.08
3 Claire Curzan 2:07.78 2:07.31
4 Rhyan White 2:09.01 2:05.13
5 Isabelle Stadden 2:09.77 2:07.28
6 Leah Shackley 2:08.42 2:08.42
7 Jo Jo Ramey 2:10.77 2:08.90
8 Kennedy Noble 2:12.44 2:10.53

Dark Horse Pick: Olivia Bray – For several seasons, Bray has been one of the top American backstrokers in the short course pool. In both 2022 and 2023, she won the Big 12 title in this event and made the A-final at NCAAs. However, she typically hasn’t prioritized this event at the national level, not even swimming it at last year’s International Team Trials. Bray swam a best time of 2:11.38 already this season, moving herself up into the conversation for a spot on one of the US rosters this summer. She could see more improvement finally swimming it with a taper under her belt. 

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Chris
9 months ago

yes. Bacon will give her a fight as will Curzan, but they aren’t doing what Smith is this season.

Sub13
9 months ago

With Smith looking so great and a few behind her not looking their best, you would have to think she’s the very heavy favourite to win. Bacon could take it if she’s on fire and Smith is off but seems extremely unlikely Smith would miss the second slot.

Snowpipers of Alaska
9 months ago

Bacon has a huge advantage here as both Claire and Regan have much busier schedules during the meet week. It’s especially unfortunate for both of them that the 200 Breast falls on the same day as the 200 Back, though if history has taught us anything about these two it’s that they’re capable of pulling off impossible doubles like that.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Snowpipers of Alaska
9 months ago

The 200 BK is scheduled on the second day of the competition. That’s hardly a major advantage.

https://www.usaswimming.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/2023-nationals-event-order.pdf

Regan Smith is scheduled to swim the 200 FL on the first day of the competition and the 200 BK on the second day of the competition. Regan Smith is not swimming the 200 FR or the 50 FL.

Scuncan Dott v2
Reply to  Snowpipers of Alaska
9 months ago

Why would either of them be swimming the 2 Breast? And if you meant the 2 Free then neither of them are racing that at trials either.

RMS
9 months ago

Bacon hasn’t been impressive this long course season. I’m picking Curzan for the second spot.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

The Bacon will sizzle!

In Yuri, we trust.

oxyswim
9 months ago

Is there a reason why that Grimes photo is upside down?

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
9 months ago

Regan Smith obliterates the field.

Sherry Smit
9 months ago

Smith 2:03.10
Curzan 2:05.92
Bacon 2:06.08
Stadden 2:07.47
Shackley 2:08.34
White 2:08.99
O’Dell 2:09.45
Ramey 2:10.97

Dark Horse: Kennedy Noble

Yikes
Reply to  Sherry Smit
9 months ago

I think it’s going to be really close between Claire and Phoebe! Phoebe is a big taper swimmer but Claire has looked good and made huge Improvements in this event under …. *gasp*… Greg Meehan. Can’t wait for this event!

Swimfan
Reply to  Yikes
9 months ago

Maya dirado trained under Meehan and she won Olympic gold

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Swimfan
9 months ago

The 2016 Summer Olympics has become a distant memory for Greg Meehan.

Yikes
Reply to  Swimfan
9 months ago

Yep, that was a reminder to the anti Greg crowd that he has turned out good athletes

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Sherry Smit
9 months ago

Nope!

Smith rocks
Bacon sizzles
Stadden stumbles
Curzan crumbles
Shackley surprises
White whimpers

Chris
Reply to  Sherry Smit
9 months ago

White after Baxon

Nikki
Reply to  Sherry Smit
9 months ago

Why does everyone always underestimate Rhyan White? “White wimpers”? What the heck is that? She’s been great for several years in a row now since she broke the SEC records back in 2020. And she swam 2.05.77 here now, qualifying in second place, less than a second off of her best time.

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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